I’m free

Once a month I get together with a few other folks for a shared lunch. It used to be pot luck, but we have got into the habit of bringing specific things and I generally supply something sweet – usually some form of cake. To begin with it was easy and I just made whatever cake took my fancy, but then we were joined by someone who was wheat intolerant and I had to change my thinking. All went well initially – I made various cakes using gluten-free flour; things like brownies and gingerbread don’t seem to suffer much with the lack of wheat. But then, she developed an intolerance to barley and the commercial gluten-free flour route was closed down.

So, I’ve experimented with a variety of flours – chestnut, rice, sorghum, millet and using guar gum to help with the texture, but although our gluten-intolerant friend says they are good, I am very dissatisfied with the results: either like a brick or stodgy, and the flour always seems to be slightly gritty. Part of my problem is planning ahead -I generally bake on a whim because I have all the necessary (wheat-laden) ingredients in my store cupboard, but personally I don’t like wheat-free flours, so I have to buy them specially for this once-a-month bake. Sadly things like chestnut flour don’t keep well and it’s too expensive to allow to go off.

Anyway, this month I have had a brainwave – old-fashioned coconut macaroons. I haven’t made these since I was a child and I had to go back to a cookery book from the 1970s to find a recipe. In fact it was an easy recipe – beat two egg whites until they are foamy, but not stiff, fold in 4 oz caster sugar and 2 level tsp cornflour, then fold in 5 oz desiccated coconut. Place little heaps of the mixture on a greased baking sheet, flatten them slightly and bake at 180C for about 20 minutes, until they are golden. They were so simple to make, they are dairy, wheat and barley-free. Fortuitously, I had two spare egg whites having made mayonnaise earlier on in the week, so the recipe was ideal. And, though I do say so myself, they do look (and taste) rather good:

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no wheat, no barley, no dairy, still good

Now I really should spend some time getting to grips with some of Kate Chiconi’s gluten free recipes, which always look amazing.

 

Three Things Thursday: 6 October 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, we are enjoying sunny weather here at the moment. Although the temperatures are distinctly autumnal (7°C when I got up this morning), it’s still lovely to sit in the limery and see blue skies.

Second, anticipation. Mr Snail has gone off to Ludlow today and should be returning home on Monday laden down with cooking apples. I know that in a couple of week’s time I will probably be bemoaning the fact that I’m still processing the things, right now I’m very excited about the prospect of them arriving. Here are a few pictures of past apple seasons…

Third, the return of my monthly lunch-date with some of my permaculture friends. Tomorrow we are planning a blind apple-tasting (I am taking some Ashmead’s Kernel) and a good catch-up since we haven’t got together for several months. This afternoon I have baked gluten-free Parisian gingerbread to take… let’s hope it tastes good – it’s the first time I’ve tried the recipe.

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Parisian gingerbread

So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?

 

The little things

Often I feel that with all the major events going on in the world, I am completely insignificant, my actions are futile and I might as well not bother. And then I realise that I’m not designed to live in this world of global news; that I can only assimilate information from a community that is meaningful to me and that I have to adjust my focus.

So, I have been trying to avoid The News, I’ve stopped following various people and organisations on social media and I’ve been concentrating on things I can do. I know that one of these things is to share ideas and so I’m feeling a little bad that I’ve hardly written for the past few weeks. I know that a stone thrown into the pond makes ripples that spread a long way. So, in that spirit, here are a few things I’ve been up to to save the planet in my own teeny-tiny way and make so ripples…

Katy the Night Owl gave me some eating apples from their neighbour’s tree, so I rolled my sleeves up and got baking, I used some of them to make an apple plait – a sweet, enriched dough filled with cinnamonny apple. It was delicious.

Then I put the remainder of the apples to work temporarily – encouraging some of the green tomatoes in the limery to ripen up:

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Come on tomatoes – there is nothing I like to make with green ones!

There are still chillies to harvest and tomatoes ripening up every day, so I made yet more passata, converted some of it into sweet and hot sauce (recipe here) and bottled up the rest.

I do still go shopping and when I do I try very hard to remember to take my own bags and containers. I’ve recently started going to a little local butcher who is happy to tell me about the source of all the meat that I am buying and to put all my purchases into my storage boxes rather than plastic bags… I’m hoping that she’ll start encouraging other customers to do the same.

The haul included some suet for making dumplings. As with many local butchers, this was free, although a donation for their charity collection was requested. I love using something like this that’s otherwise considered a waste product. You may have noticed that my bag is emblazoned with the words ‘Community Clothing’. This fabulous project is…

a manufacturers cooperative with a simple mission; to make excellent quality affordable clothes for men and women, to create great jobs for skilled workers and by doing this help to restore real pride in Britain’s textile communities. (Community Clothing web siteCommunity Clothing web site)

I got the bag via a crowdfunding campaign which helped to get the project off the ground.

So, that’s it, that’s the sort of thing that I do – shop local, support small businesses, use and preserve seasonal produce, reduce consumption of single-use plastic, oh and make cake, because the world is a happier place with cake…

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Lime cup cakes

Three Things Thursday: 15 September 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, baking cake. Today it’s a lime drizzle cake. A joy to make and to eat… do call in for a slice if you are passing later, but don’t leave it too long!

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Ready, set, bake…

Second, chillies. This morning Mr Snail picked another 17 chillies from our two lemon drop plants… they are so beautiful and very tasty (if you like that sort of thing).

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Lovely lemon drop

Third, mint. I love our apple mint both for its culinary uses and for the abundance of bees, butterflies and hoverflies that visit the flowers.

So that’s it for this week. What are you feeling grateful for?

 

The end of the great egg famine

The past few months have seen us very short of eggs. For the first time in about six years we resorted to buying them. The very dark days this winter with all the rain, combined with the demise of Esme have been the cause. Previous hens have laid a few eggs throughout the winter, but this has not been the case with the bluebell girls and elderly Lorna only manages about three eggs every two weeks. A brief burst from Tiffany a couple of weeks ago allowed us to have a few lunches involving poached or boiled eggs, but alas she has stopped laying again. As for Anna – nada. At this rate we are going to have to consider increasing the flock – eggs had become a really important component of our diet and their absence also means no cake!

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The new residents* are impressed!

It was with great joy, therefore, that we accepted a gift of four eggs from Kate the other day. Now, you might feel that four eggs is rather stingy. But, what if I tell you they are goose eggs? Each one weighs about 165g – nearly 6oz! For comparison I weighed one of Lorna’s eggs and that came in at 70g – less than 2.5oz. I don’t often get to cook with goose eggs, but my experience is that they make deliciously light cakes… and so I used two of them to make a huge chocolate-orange cake, with chocolate-orange butter cream and a chocolate ganache topping.

So, if any of you are passing in the next day or so… call in for the most delicious cake, made with an ingredient that most people will never get the chance to use.

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Quick before the critters get it!

-oOo-

* There has been a bit of an invasion: two mousevaarks – Iolanthe and Arnoldo – and Tali, a molevaark**.

**It’s amazing what some people do with old socks!

An apple a day…

…does not, in fact, keep the doctor away. I’m still here despite the raw apple population Chez Snail expanding. I have managed to keep accumulation of cooking apples under control, but I did arrive home at the weekend with rather a lot of eaters:

An abundance of eating apples

An abundance of eating apples

Fortunately, these will benefit from sitting in the fruit bowl awhile, so we are not having to consume nothing but apples at the moment. The ones pictured came from my dear friends Janta and Merav, who live in their forest garden in Shropshire. Janta grafts fruit trees, so the diversity that they have is amazing and it was a delight to see their trees (which I completely failed to photograph) absolutely dripping with apples.

Bottling has rather ground to a halt, although it’s due to resume today, but I did make cakes the other day: apple cider cake (which we are enjoying at the moment) and wheat-free apple ginger upside down cake (which was made for an event that was cancelled at the last minute, so is now in the freezer):

Two different sorts of apple cake

Two different sorts of apple cake

I think that we’ll have apple crumble over the weekend and I’m planning to make some sweet chilli sauce containing apples and home-grown tomatoes and chillies (picture below), but I’m on the look out for other good apple recipes… any ideas?

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Three different sorts of chillies currently ripening in the limery: lemon drop (foreground), pyramid (middle) and Bartlett’s bonnet (back)

The good bits

Whilst marking is the worst part of teaching, there are some good bits. Today, on our Habitat Creation and Restoration course, we spent most of our time at Cwmsymlog, an old metal mine. The sun shone, we saw rare species of fern and discussed natural habitat development and dealing with contaminated land. Every time I run a course I am inspired by my learners and I gain new perspectives on my subject, plus I get to spend happy days in the field.

And what course would be complete without cake?

Blackberry and white chocolate muffins for the last day

Blackberry and white chocolate muffins ready for tomorrow (by request!)

Eggs and citrus

Frosty mornings

Frosty mornings

Despite the cold nights and frosty mornings, all four of the hens have decided that they are going to lay (Lorna had a year off – June 2013 to June 2014 – but is fully back in the swing of things now despite being about five years old). This means that we have eggs. Lots of eggs. The newbies are laying pretty much every day and the other two every few days, so that’s about 20 eggs per week. We are genuinely delighted that they are all doing so well, having lost two of our flock late last summer, it’s good to know that the remaining oldies and the new girls are happy and healthy.

Happy hens this morning

Happy hens this morning

Having had a bit of an egg famine in recent months, I had got out of the habit of using them, but I’m remembering what to do with them now and trying out some new recipes. You can always find homes for eggs, but it really is good to be able to make use of them at home; and with so many available this does require some creative thinking. This is where reading other people’s blog posts can be particularly helpful. For example, I was delighted to come across Anne Wheaton’s post the other day about making Seville orange curd. I am not a fan of marmalade, but I really like citrus curds. They only store for a limited time, but Anne’s recipe is for a single small pot and uses one egg – perfect, and adaptable for other citrus fruits too. So, on Friday I made a pot, and as you can see we have already been tucking in:

I also returned to an old favourite – lemon cake with lemon icing. This recipe is from the first Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. It’s supposed to have poppy seeds in, but I don’t bother; and this time I made it with soft brown sugar because I realised once I’d started that I did not have enough caster sugar. It’s a marvellously light cake because you beat the egg whites and then fold them into the mixture right at the end just before baking. You don’t use the yolks, but I’m planning ice-cream for later in the week… a recipe that, coincidentally, requires exactly the number of yolks I have left over.

In addition, we had bacon and egg butties on Friday and waffles for breakfast this morning… even so, I think there are probably the same number of eggs on the eggskelter as when Mr Snail arrived home for the weekend. I see omelette in my future!

Lots of eggs

an eggskelter… in case you didn’t know what one is!

Forget Tasmania, where is the snail of happiness?

I’m pleased to announce that Tasmania, at least the one that I was talking about in my last post, has been found. It is safe and well in my sister’s living room! Yes, the jig-map of my childhood is still being enjoyed by members of my family… we are all squirrels!

However, you may have been wondering where the snail of happiness has been for more than a week now. You have, perhaps, spotted one of my little minions here, and I got a mention here, but as for me there has been silence. I know, I didn’t warn you, but I thought that I was going to have time to blog and it turned out that I didn’t.

Last weekend we had a garden party to celebrate my dad’s life. The sun shone (mostly), we had lovely pictures of dad around the place to encourage people to share their memories of him and there was lots of tea and cake. In fact the only sort of cake he really liked was fruit cake, but we made up for that with a lovely spread including scones, lemon drizzle cake, Victoria sponge, coffee and walnut cake, sticky toffee cake and fallen chocolate truffle cake to name a few. What do you think?

Our cake table

Our cake table

And then I went to spend a few days at Chestnuts Farm… a rather interesting set up comprising a number of separate parcels of rented land with sheep, goats, poultry, a horse, a pony, vegetables and a hay field. I got a real picture of the challenges faced by tenant farmers who have no security because their tenancies are only for, perhaps, three years. How do you make plans for the land you work, when you don’t know whether you will still be on it in five years time? Without longer tenancies, there is little incentive for such farmers to invest in permanent buildings, expensive fencing and planting trees, or anything else that they may not be able to get a proper return on. Since small-scale producers play a valuable part in food-growing in the UK, it seems important to give them security if they do not own their own land.

Would you brave that beak to steal my identity?

A young Perdy

During my visit, I particularly enjoyed seeing the poultry; my favourites being the bantams. However, in my absence, one of our girls, Perdy, went into a very rapid decline and died before my return. She stopped laying about six months ago, but appeared quite healthy up until the final couple of days. Now we have to decide whether we want any replacements… if there was somebody local with bantams I would be sorely tempted!

The other loss this week was the mealworm farm… the colony was, I thought, safe and sound in the greenhouse. However, a bird found its way in and has consumed not only the adult beetles that were thriving, but much of the oats and bran that they were feeding on. I’m annoyed that I hadn’t kept their container covered, but I really never expected the wild birds to venture into the greenhouse. I think the culprit was a juvenile robin. I have ordered a fresh supply of mealworms and will start again, bearing in mind the need to ensure better protection!

Potluck

I quite often attend events that involve some sort of  ‘potluck’ food. It can feel like a risk to rely on a random set of contributions to feed a group, but I never fail to be amazed by the fantastic meals that appear.

My learning guild meets once a month and we always have what we call a ‘shared lunch’. To be honest, we’ve got into a bit of a routine: John makes soup, Katy brings bread or roasted veg, Kate (a new member) has brought cheese and olives and I supply cake. Our less regular members tend to add something unexpected, but the basic pieces of the meal are all in place. Other occasions are less predictable.

The weekend before last, when I was teaching permaculture at Karuna, our first lunch was a pot luck. In this case you have to remember that most of the ten people had never met before and that I only gave the briefest guidelines about what to bring. Even so, we had a feast that fed us for much more than that first meal:

Food to share in the sunshine

Food to share in the sunshine

And it doesn’t just have to be about lunch; our cake and craft sessions at Denmark Farm rely on at least some participants donating a cake or other sweet snack. Because there’s no pressure to provide a meal, some of the spreads we’ve had for afternoon tea have been amazing:

I felt compelled to make some bunting to decorate the cake table with

This was our first session

But it gets better...

But it gets better…

... and better

… and better

So, next time you need to feed a group of people, take a risk and ask them all to contribute something… you never know what sort of amazing banquet you might end up with!

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